The five occasions you need to use business language

20 Oct 2021

Business language is an important thing to know if you want to be successful at work. Business language focuses on the effort and the outcome for activities at work (for more detail about business language, check out this article). We don’t need business language all the time. But, there are five occasions you need to use business language:

  1. Communication about decisions.
  2. Asking for funding and proposing ideas.
  3. Prioritizing the order of work.
  4. Talking about the status of work.
  5. Communicating with executives.

There are other situations when business language can help. but, in these five occasions, you need to use business language.

1. Communication about decisions

Any decision at work impacts the business.

Deciding to start a new piece of work means the business is spending money and using resources. Those resources are no longer available to do other work. Deciding which solution to use for a particular software problem means comparing solutions. This includes comparing the time it takes to build each solution, the long-term implications of maintaining the code, the limitations of each solution on future upgrades, and so on.

The main decision-based situations are:

  • Asking someone to make a decision
  • Describing a decision someone needs to make
  • Explaining the options available, or why one option is better than the others
  • Justifying a decision or a course of action already taken

Each one of these situations involved thinking about effort and outcomes. And, as we know, effort and outcomes are the core of business language.

2. Asking for funding and proposing ideas

Proposing an idea and/or asking for funding is a special type of decision discussion. You are asking someone to decide whether to approve and fund an idea.

The main reason funding requests need business language is they impact the business. You are asking for resources and that has a business impact. If there is business impact, you need to use business language to describe it.

We often ask for funding by focusing on the value of our idea to the user. We also describe the technical merits of the solution we want to build or put in place. But those methods don’t consider the business perspective.

When asking for money from the business you need to answer the question ‘What’s in it for the business?’ and that mean using business language.

3. Planning and prioritizing work

Planning work involves deciding what to do and the order in which to do it. It also includes identifying the effort required, and defining the outcomes.

Prioritizing work is also a form of decision making (are you seeing a theme with these scenarios?).

If you are picking which task to do first this week that is a decision. If you are choosing which project gets pushed to the back of the queue, that is a decision. And as we have already seen, decisions involve business thinking. That means they use business perspective and need to use business language.

4. Talking about status of work

The status of ongoing work isn’t a decision (ah, finally something different!).

Status updates often focus on what was done or how particular problems are being solved. To make status updates meaningful the information should be in language everyone understands. Status updates also include comparisons against the plan and against the desired outcome.

Plans and outcomes use business language (as mentioned earlier). They include costs, timelines, and defined quality outputs. Plans also define the expected effort and outcomes from the work. Effort and outcome are at the core of the business perspective. And the best way to describe them is to use business language.

Having said status isn’t about decisions I do need to point out one exception. Work that is over budget, or behind schedule, needs decisions about what to do next. Will we add more money, resources, or time? Or, in some cases, the work may stop. Each of these actions requires a decision.

5. Communicating with executives and senior leaders

Executives and senior leaders spend most of their time considering the business perspective. That means they spend most of their time using business language. Two common reasons for communicating with executives are to give status updates and ask for a decision. And as we already covered, decisions and status updates should use business language.


Business language is helpful in many situations. But there are five occasions you need to use business language. Communicating about decisions, planning and prioritizing work, and status updates all need business language. As do most communication with executives.

This doesn’t mean you must only use business language in these situations. But if you don’t include any business language you will find these situations take longer. The outcomes may be less productive, and you might not get the decision you hoped for.